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Spring Dawn at Peach Blossom Spring:
Ming Dynasty Silk String Qin Melodies for the New Year1
A past program 2                    
Program Introduction

Chinese New Year tends to be a time of raucous celebration, something quite the opposite of the aim of most qin melodies. In this line one might try to make a New Year program based on either creating new qin melodies or adapting for the qin melodies from other genres; alternatively one could select the most "exciting" qin melodies regardless of whether they have anything to do with spring or the New Year. In any of these cases, though, without an unusual (for qin) amount of amplification the music would hardly be noticed at a typical New Year's celebration.3

The present program, in contrast, provides the listener with a contemplative break from the hustle and bustle of the season by presenting ancient silk string melodies with connections to spring. These melodies, while remaining within the guqin tradition of delicacy and restraint, present a generally optimistic outlook. None specifically mentions the New Year period; instead the music might better be sensed as a harbinger of the warmer weather to come.


The program consists of qin melodies played on a silk string qin following the principles of Historically Informed Performance and in close accord with their transcriptions in Ming dynasty qin tablature. These melodies include the following, all of which have themes connected to spring, though some don't have the word "spring" in their title.4 In addition, where appropriate, it may be possible to include a melody connected to the specific animal associated with the upcoming year.5

  1. Taoyuan Chunxiao (Spring Dawn at Peach Blossom Spring, 1525)
    Peach blossoms (桃花 taohua) symbolize prosperity, romance and long life. The latter is a theme of the present melody. On a spring day, a villager discovers a timeless hidden valley where people know nothing of the outside world; here time seems to stand still.
  2. Shuixian Qu (Narcissus Melody, 1579)
    Shui xian literally means "water immortal" but the term is also used for the narcissus flower. The original theme of this melody is not clear, but the narcissus itself, because it is one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, is often associated with Chinese New Year. At this time narcissus plants in water are often given as gifts.
  3. Meihua Sannong (Three Repetitions of "Plum Blossom", 1425)
    The plum blossom, a flower that blooms even earlier than the narcissus, has also been associated with the new year for an even longer time. At this time of year it is particularly popular to give friends sprigs of plum blossoms.
  4. Yang Chun (Sunny Spring); two musically unrelated versions dating from 1425 and/or 1525
    A famous ancient title paired with but not connected to Bai Xue (White Snow; see Winter)
  5. Chun Jiang Qu (Spring River Melody, 1511)
    A qin song with lyrics being ancient poems alluding to romance on a river in spring
  6. Chun Jiang (River in Spring, 1539)
    An instrumental version of the previous
  7. Chun Jiang (Spring River, 1525)
    Unrelated to the previous, this concerns a love affair between Fan Li and Xi Shi
  8. Chun Xiao Yin (Spring Dawn, 1525)
    Poetic references often associate spring dawn with romance, but here the melody is apparently intended as a prelude to Zhi Zhao Fei (Pheasants' Morning Flight), which concerns an old man mourning that he has no wife. Later editions of this melody do not make this association, and so to keep the mood light the melody is here considered as a prelude to the following, which is in the same mode (羽調 yu diao). It is not musically related to the later Yulou Chun Xiao.
  9. Chun Si (Spring Thoughts, 1525)
    "Created by an elevated gentleman inspired by spring fragance". Subtitles evoke various springtime images.

John Thompson

John Thompson has been playing the guqin since 1974, since 1976 focusing on historically informed reconstructions from Ming dynasty qin tablature. He has the largest repertoire of any modern qin player; his website www.silkqin.com has over 200 mp3s of his reconstructions from Ming tablature, and the accompanying introductions and general commentary have made his website the largest one focused on the guqin. For most of the melodies on this program he is the only person to be playing the earliest version; for many he is the only one to be playing any version.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Spring Festival and Chinese New Year (see also Wiki: Chinese Calendar and Li Chun)
Although for thousands of years China has had both a traditional solar calendar and a traditional lunar calendar (also called lunisolar), the lunar calendar seems to have been more popular. The Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days each according to lunar cycles, then adding an extra month whenever needed to align the solar and lunar cycles. New Year's celebrations begin on the evening of the last day of the old year - in theory at the moment of a new moon, but there were often regional variations on this and at times differing ways of making the calculations. Nowadays the actual date according to the internatioal solar calendar can also vary depending on the time zone. In China the first day of Chinese New Year now seems to range from as early as 21 January to as late as 20 February - in the USA this could be a day later. The festival period ends 15 days later. In most parts of China that evening, the night of the first full moon, is celebrated as the Lantern Festival.

Until 1913 perhaps the most common name for "Chinese New Year" in China was "First Morning" (元旦 Yuan Dan). Since then the common name in both China and on Taiwan has been "Spring Festival" (春節 Chun Jie), though it also has many other popular names, including Passing the Year" (過年 Guo Nian) and "New Spring" (新春 Xin Chun) as well as simply "New Year" (新年 Xin Nian).

Just to keep things interesting, "Spring Festival" comes from a term in the traditional Chinese solar calendar, "Spring Begins" (立春 Li Chun), the day when the sun enters the position of 315° on the ecliptic, around February 4th of the Gregorian calendar. This system further divided the calendar into 14 or 15 day cycles, the one following "Spring Begins" being "Rain Water" (or "Rainfall": 雨水 Yu Shui).

Neither Chinese New Year, nor Spring Festival, nor any other of these associated details seems ever to have been mentioned in connection with any specific qin melody. Regarding the animals associated with each year see further below.

2. Yale Lunarfest 2014
See the .pdf for the brochure mentioning my program; My performances mentions other Chinese New Year programs I have given.

3. Exciting selection
There is also already a tendency in modern mainland qin programs to look for "exciting" melodies, such as the shortened versions of Guangling San focussing on the fast sections.

4. Available melodies
In this regard Zha Fuxi's Guide lists a rather large number of melodies with the word "spring" in the title (search the Guide for "chun"), but I play only those published in the Ming dynasty.

5. Animals of the Chinese "zodiac" (See also above)
Zodiac (lit. "circle of little animals") in English refers to the 12 constellations on the apparent annual path of the sun around the earth. In the Chinese system, although there is also a cycle of 12 animals as well as a divination aspect, there is one animal a year instead of one a month. The common term in Chinese means "birth likenesses": 生肖 sheng xiao.

According to some calculations the first day of the animal year goes by the solar calendar rather than the lunar calendar; they thus have the animal year always beginning around 4 February of the Gregorian calendar.

Very few of the animals are mentioned in connection with qin melodies. In any case, the 12 animals, with their years from 2008 to 2019 and the titles of possibly relevant qin melodies, are:

2008: 鼠 Rat
2009: 牛 Ox
2010: 虎 Tiger (Li Ling Si Han: Li Ling Thinks of Han; Section 2 is "Throttling a Tiger")
2011: 兔 Rabbit
2012: 龍 Dragon (Shuilong Yin: Water Dragon Intonation)
2013: 蛇 Snake
2014: 馬 Horse (Long Ma Yin; not yet learned)
2015: 羊 Goat/sheep (Han Jie Cao: about Su Wu as a shepherd)
2016: 猴 Monkey
2017: 雞 Rooster (Ji Ming Du Guan; not yet learned)
2018: 狗 Dog (Ji Ming Du Guan also mentions a dog, as does Xiang Yang Ge)
2019: 豬 Pig

Some of these animals are mentioned in various places in connection with qin (e.g., "對牛彈琴 playing qin for an ox"), but as can be seen here, few are actually mentioned in connection with actual surviving qin melodies.

In other cases, although an animal may be mentioned in connection with a specific melody, I have not yet found any related usable images; such is the case with the dog (further comment).

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